Hard conversations ‘will improve Indigenous health’

Dennis McDermott blog
Professor McDermott says Indigenous health standards will improve with cultural safety installed in the medical system.

A new framework for Aboriginal health care and training will provide guidelines for a ‘culturally safe’ system for educating doctors, nurses and also patients in the system.

The Flinders University initiative is the result of an Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching-funded research program by Professor McDermott, of the Adelaide Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Well-Being at Flinders University.

Professor McDermott says the initiative will help to improve Indigenous health, with cases of Aboriginal patients putting their lives at risk due to the systemic racism in the medical system.

He says Indigenous people often terminate their hospital treatment early because medical services and health professionals lack cultural safety.

Entitled ‘Having the hard conversations – A good practice framework to reduce resistance to Indigenous health and cultural safety,’ the good-practice framework is set to be approved by accreditation organisations around Australia.

The resources will be launched through the Department of Health’s Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) Network in November.

“We want to encourage all health workers to have the ‘hard conversations’ about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia,” says Professor McDermott.

“Our goal is to equip everyone in the system to interact in a culturally-safe way – not only with their patients, but also with their fellow Indigenous health professionals,” he says.

“We are talking about the need for institutional change to better support Indigenous doctors and nurses.

“Racism has many faces, not least in some perplexing encounters with other students and educators in health care.

“There can be a cumulative effect on personal health and wellbeing that may also threaten student retention.

“And even after graduation, there can be troubling treatment from other clinicians on the wards which can inhibit professional advancement.”

Flinders’ two Poche centres in Adelaide and Alice Springs have offered pastoral and cultural support, scholarships for mature students, along with the Indigenous Transitions Pathways Unit in Darwin. Enrolments have more than tripled in the past decade, with more than 100 Indigenous students now enrolled in the faculty in SA and the NT.

“We see Flinders as a leader in this area, and we are looking to incorporate the principles of such a commitment to culturally safe faculty environments into the national accreditation processes for all doctors, nurses and midwives,” Professor McDermott says.

Hear from Professor McDermott, who is director of the Adelaide Poche Centre, Flinders-trained Dr Aleeta Fejo and third-year medical student Sarah Bormann in the ABC News 24 report here.

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